Happy 7-0, Dad!

We spent the day in the mountains with my folks, celebrating my dad’s 70th birthday. seven-oh. We had an awesome day at their timeshare cabin at Banff Gate just outside of Canmore (not far from Banff). Got lots of great pics, and Evan had a blast.

The coolest thing about today was that dad wasn’t supposed to make it to 70. He was diagnosed with a serious case of polymyositis in 1997 (?), and was given under a year to live. His body was digesting all protein in his system, slowly taking his internal organs apart and secreting the remains into his blood.

Well, he basically blew all of us away with his recovery. Dad went through a lot of crap, with his body falling apart from the inside out. All kinds of drug cocktails, side effects, cocktails for the side effects. Therapy. Rest. And now, years later, he just keeps getting stronger, and isn’t slowing down at all. He even had a heart attack last year, and while that was a pretty big scare for everyone, he shook it off, followed doctors’ orders, and keeps on truckin’. Awesome. Looking forward to the big eight-oh, nine-oh, and beyond. Keep on keepin’ on, dad! I hope I’m going as strong when I’m your age! I give my dad a hard time – we relate primarily through sarcastic humour – but we’ve been through a lot over the years (some pretty severe ups and downs), and I admire him in so many ways, and love him more than words can express – certainly more than I could ever say to him. perhaps he’ll see this entry sometime… or, I’ll get up the nerve to say this to his face…

Today was good on several levels – great to have a quality day with my folks. Great to have an awesome day with my wife and son (and Evan was totally amazing today!!!). And, I’ve been in the middle of a neverending shitstorm on a Major Project (well, Two Major Projects With Overlapping/Conflicting Deadlines/Demands). It feels like the entire frakking world is on my shoulders, and it was freaking awesome to get a day (well, only a few hours actually) without having to really think/deal with the bullshit thrown my way. One of the reasons I went back to working at the University was the concept of cycles – there are periods of extreme demands/productivity, but it’s followed by a brief period of lesser demands, where you can catch your breath, regroup, decompress, debrief, grow, and then head into the peak of the cycle refreshed and ready to go. The trough part of the cycle has been absent for me for the last year, so I feel like I’ve been running at 100% for the full year. Nearly burned out. Nowhere near as productive as I could/should be. Both Major Projects are winding down (for now – one permanently, the other hopefully dovetailing into a new cycle). Looking forward to the trough…

On a less Deep note, I was using my sister-in-law’s camera today. She took off to Vegas for a week, and didn’t want to lug her camera around, so she borrowed our small Fujifilm e510, leaving her Sony Cybershot DSC-F717 for us to use. Normally, I’m not a fan of Sony cameras. Hate memory sticks. We hates them. Tricksy! False! wait… OK. So, the Sony camera is a high-end consumer “enthusiast” camera. Not quite SLR, not quite point-and-shoot. It’s got LOTS of nice features (a ring for adjusting focus/zoom, really fast booting and responding to shutter release, awesome low light handling, great battery life, etc…) I’d never buy the camera myself. Although it’s really nice, it uses a silly storage medium, and the beautiful Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lense is built into the camera (on a swivel, but built-in), so that’s annoying – it wobbles and makes me really nervous.

Basically, what using this camera did was make me realize just how much I want a digital SLR. I found I (felt like I (?)) was taking better pictures with the Sony just because of the extra control/feedback/response. Just imagine how much better a Digital Rebel XT would be, or a 5D

I’ll post the pics to Flickr when I get them off the camera. I don’t have anything that can read the stupid Memory Stick format, and the camera uses a USB connection that differs from any USB connection I have cables for. WTF, Sony? Have to wait to trade cameras back again, and get my pics offloaded for me…

New Autostitch Panoramas

Over the years, I have taken several series of quick-and-dirty panorama photographs. No tripod. No careful alignment. Just snapping a series of shots at various angles at cool or memorable places. I’ve been hoping that the software would catch up and make it brain-dead simple and quick to make high quality panoramas. Autostitch has finally done that.

I’ve been playing with Autostitch for a while now, but just went back through the iPhoto archives and dragged 14 sets of panorama series, and fed them into Autostitch to see what came out. The results aren’t consistently great (my older camera had lower res, and image quality was poorer), but they’re pretty darned good.

Flickr Album: Autostitch Panoramas – a photoset on Flickr

Here are some of the better ones…

Stanley Park pano WWDC2002 Stevenote Lineup pano Jungle Mural pano SF Downtown pano

iPod Battery Failure

I know my battery life is really sucking on my 3G iPod. I get JUST enough juice to commute home and back to work (a grand total of 1 hour of use) before having to plug it in for enough charge to repeat the cycle again. On the weekend, if I just leave it “off” without charging it, it will be completely dead on Monday morning (which makes D’Arcy grumpy on the bus on the way to campus).

I didn’t realize that this was officially categorized as “battery failure” – I thought it was acceptable degradation of the battery life over time. Apparently it’s a bit more than that. If I were American, it looks like the recent iPod Battery Settlement would have me covered, and I’d either get a new battery or a deep discount on a replacement.

From the iPod battery settlement notice:

“Battery Failure” means that the capacity of an iPod’s battery to hold an electrical charge has dropped to four hours or less of continuous audio playback, with earbuds attached, with respect to the Third Generation iPod, or five hours or less of continuous audio playback, with earbuds attached, with respect to the First Generation iPod and the Second Generation iPod.

As it stands, I’m trying to figure out how to upgrade the battery on my own. I believe I have three options:

  1. Apple’s battery replacement program: $127CDN + $10CDN Shipping
  2. Newer Tech 3G battery replacement (850 mAh): $25.99US + $16US Shipping
  3. FastMac Online – Battery, Internal: 3rd Gen, 780 mAh, TruePower: $29.29US + shipping

I just sank $35 into some headphones to replace the iPod’s earbuds (which were OK, but sound quality wasn’t all that great), so I’m not sure I want to sink another chunk of change to keep the iPod ship shape.

Any tips or ideas? I do really love my iPod. No plans to ditch or retire it – I just want to make it last without having to sink a small fortune into it.

Update: Paul just let me know that CostCo is carrying iPod batteries! $19US for my model, for the 850 mAH model. Going to have to pick one of these up the next time I’m in the States, or nag the local CostCo into carrying these suckers…

Automator for Deploying WebObjects Application

For the Pachyderm project, we wanted a way to automatically update, build and deploy a WebObjects application and its supporting framework. The initial reaction was to just use a shell script, with xcodebuild running on the server to build the appropriate projects.

That didn’t work for us, because our server is still running 10.3 (with the appropriate older XCode dev. kit), while we’ve moved on to 10.4 and XCode 2.1 for development- so our server can’t understand the .xcodeproj files and barfs appropriately. Doh.

So, King and I whipped up an Automator-based workflow that runs on one of our dev. boxes. It first runs a shell script to update the source code from subversion, then builds the framework and application. It then runs a shell script to record the subversion revision number in a file in the compiled application (so we can display the revision number for bug reports etc… and not pollute our source code with revision numbers). Then, it connects to the server over afp, moves the old build products out of the way, and copies the new ones into place. About an hour later, WOMonitor comes through and cycles the app.

Basically, there is one “master” workflow that runs several nested workflows. This “master” is saved as an application, and I’ve set iCal to launch it every morning at 1:00am.

Yes. Source code management and enterprise application deployment with Automator and iCal :-)

It seems to work well, but we initially had some permissions problems. It will also make it trivial for use to update the app at will.

Notational Velocity for Outboard Brain

Yeah, I’m switching again.

I’d used Notational Velocity before, and really liked it, but switched to DevonThink PE to manage stuff that I don’t necessarily want Google to find (password, bank account info, and random notes – code snippets and the like – that don’t make sense being blogged)

I just tried the full DevonTHINK Professional edition, and while it’s really nice, and has handy Dashboard widgets for easy access, it just struck me as a “heavy” application. Its interface is essentially a taxonomy, or a hierarchy of folders. That’s cool, but you need to keep thinking about where to meaningfully store stuff.

I was tossing around the idea of using a personal wiki (TiddlyWiki, WikitiWidget, a local copy of MediaWiki, or VoodooPad), and then remembered Notational Velocity (well, remembered isn’t the word… I saw the icon sitting next to VoodoPad in my ~/Applications directory :-) )

NV is really sweet. It’s basically just a tagging interface – you type in a tag (or a “description”, in NV-speak), and it searches all of your notes, providing a list of relevant items. If you hit TAB to get into the text entry/display field, you can create a new entry for that tag/description, or edit an existing one. It’s one part wiki, one part fulltext index, one part tagging. No hierarchy. No taxonomy. Just fast, simple entry and retrieval of information, without any bells or whistles getting in the way.

I’ve bound it to respond to “control+space” so it pops up with a single keystroke for easy access.

Update: Well, it gets even easier. NV has a couple of system-wide Services available. Hit “command+shift+v” and your text selection gets turned into a new NV entry, with the first line being used for the “description” (tag), and the entire selection used in the body. Sweet.

U of C Network Killed by W32/IRCbot.worm

Looks like our on-campus networks are being hammered by W32/IRCbot.worm – the Learning Commons webserver, Pachyderm, APOLLO, as well as the main U of C website are all being affected by terabytes of virus traffic taking over the network.

Even though our servers aren’t running the Biggest Security Hole Known to Man, and are themselves quite safe, they don’t have any bandwidth available due to the predominance of lesser boxes on the network.

I’m wondering if we should have a separate isolated network on campus for risky and untrusted machines, and just move all Windows machines onto that. We could then disconnect the whole lot of them when they get infested again (not if, but when).

This Spartan Life: Machinima Talk Show

Gizmodo linked to a new machinima talk show: This Spartan Life

If you’ve seen Red vs. Blue, or some of the similar movies made using “in game” videography from some games like Halo or Quake3, you’ll know what machinima is.

But This Spartan Life takes it one step further – instead of being a scripted “in-game play” being acted out, it’s a full-blown talk show. Complete with guests, interviews, cameramen and crew, perimeter security snipers, stray rocket fire from nearby newbies, and the Solid Gold Elite Dancers.

The first episode includes an entertaining interview with Bob Stein, one of the pioneers of interactive media. It somehow adds to the conversation, watching him experiment with movement in Halo, and dodging newbie enemy fire. His entrance in a flying warthog was pretty funny, too…

What I’m really curious in, though, is how could this be used to bring guests into a class in a more interactive way than just piping them in via videoconference. Imagine your students being able to walk around with, interact with, and have personal discussions with invited guests. And, recording the session for later use/review…

This is along the lines of Mike and Rob’s class project from a couple years ago, where they took a game engine, and modeled an ancient Yemeni temple for use as a setting for inquiry-based learning by groups of students. Professors and TAs could participate as well, and students were able to explore the temple and surrounding area, interacting with in-game characters and other students.

I’m not sure what ever came of their simulation, but the technology has come a LOOOONG way since then, so I’d love to see what they could do now…

iPodder.org Directory + Winer’s OPML Editor

I’ve been really bad about updating the iPodder.org podcast directory educational category in a timely manner. Mostly because it’s rather a huge PITA to manually update the .opml file – very carefully editing the xml in BBEdit, then validating using the just barely meaningful online OPML validator to make sure I didn’t bork it.

I just downloaded Dave Winer‘s OPML Editor, and it makes the updates easy enough to make it not worth avoiding.

The UI on OPML Editor is decidedly non-MacOSX. It feels like a classic app, circa 1996 or so. Even has the retro spinning pinwheel icon when it’s busy. But it works, and that’s what counts. But, then again, I’m sooooo spoiled with the awesome OmniOutliner Professional 3

I’m going to investigate the online component of the tool, and see if I might be able to take the FTP-upload part of the update cycle out of the loop to make it even less tedious…

Update: That was easy… I just copied the .opml file into OPML Editor’s “www” folder, and it automagically published it to the opml.org server. I’m assuming any changes will be pushed transparently by the application. No more FTP updates for the file (which wasn’t too onerous, but was yet another step…) I’ve sent an email to Adam to see if he can change the .opml url from the old location on the Learning Commons webserver to the opml.org autohosting location.

Spam is getting personal (?)

I just got the most bizarre email spam. Obviously it was triggered by some Google query, as some key words that show up in my Google referrals were used repeatedly in the email.

hello, i have had numerous sites telling me that your site has the key to seing my house no matter what country i live in but on checking it out all i get is what pizza place do i want to know are you a pizza mad freak, you should stop giving people false hope as i do not want to know where i can get a pizza i already know, i just thought you offered a way of seeing what the gov can see and how far and intimate they can get as of my own living accom. so please dont advertise that you can do this when you clearly cant. regards but firmly melanie

Um, Thanks? Sorry? Not really sure what kind of response Melanie was looking for, without providing a URL or anything…

Unreality TV

Alan’s got a rant-on about “reality” TV, and the impending doom of civilization as we know it.

I kinda agree, but don’t think it will stop until we’ve seen the likes of “Switched At Birth” – a “reality” series where they swap babies between a rich family and a trailer park family, and follow the kids until adulthood. Fun and entertainment for all, watching the rich kid become a crack dealer, and the poor kid a socialite. Wheee!

By the way, Rupert Murdoch, even though the rest of my blog is under a Creative Commons license, I retain the rights to “Switched At Birth” – when you want to talk production deals, give me a shout.

Oh, and Alan… If you find a deal on that off-grid tropical island, I’ll cut you in on my royalties if you can make room for a few more refugee souls…